Building Thinking Skills

About Building Thinking Skills

Building thinking skills is one of those things that we often know little about, or have not even heard about, until the time we really need to be doing that has long since passed. It's not that we are too old to learn, but that we were not always shown how to learn quickly and effectively, and how to apply what we had learned.

Grade school and high school seemed to be a time where much of what we learned were things that we had to commit to memory. We learned innumerable facts, often not paying much attention to what these facts really meant, how they came to be, or what we might be able to do by knowing them. We simply "learned" them. In high school, we were warned, if we intended to go on to college, we were going to have to learn how to think. Why weren't we taught that back then? There were no classes dedicated to learning thinking skills.

Epiphany - The light often came on early during the college years when a professor would design a test, where knowing the answer wasn't enough. You had to know how the answer was arrived at, and what the answer meant. All of a sudden, when you studied, you had to begin to think about what you were studying, and begin building thinking skills, sometimes with help, sometimes on your own.

Systems engineering is one area where thinking skills really come into play. It's not enough to be skilled in one area, or to know the basics theory underlying several different disciplines. One needs to know how to tie all the various parts together, and what the end result will be when that is done. Building thinking skills involves asking many questions, "what if this?" and "what if that?", and putting the pieces together to come up with the answer.

Reading Skills – When given a reading assignment in school, perhaps it was to read the chapter of a book for an English Literature class. If we could recite the names of the characters, and understand the plot, that was often satisfactory. We weren't taught to read though. When building thinking skills are applied to youngsters in the K through 8 group, much attention is paid on learning how to read, and not just reading. The student learns when skimming through a chapter is all that is needed, or when scanning is helpful in pulling out significant facts. The student learns how to deal with context, in particular finding hidden meanings in the context. At a slightly more advanced level, the student learns to read between the lines, and soon begins to learn to question what is being read.

Advanced Topics - At a more advanced level, often involving people in the professions, building thinking skills encompasses subjects such as frames of reference, causal reasoning, mind mapping, and metacognition. In frames of reference, we are taught how to try to understand where the other person is coming from, and how their thought processes are working, so that we're in a better position to work or deal with them. This is critical in areas such as negotiating and marketing. In causal reasoning, the task is to try and determine cause and effect between two seemingly unrelated things. Sherlock Holmes excelled at this. As a thinking skill, mind mapping helps one break free of barriers in one's own mind, and work through a problem seemingly without constraints, similar to brainstorming in many respects. Metacognition is really looking at yourself very carefully and critically, thinking about what you are thinking. By examining, twisting, and parsing your own thoughts, you'll often surprise yourself as your discover faulty logic, biases, and wrong assumptions, as well as all the positives. The attempt to "know thyself" may be the ultimate challenge in building thinking skills.

Books, CD's, DVD's, and software applications, mostly aimed at younger people, are coming in to more widespread use by educators dedicated to building thinking skills. Maybe the days of "just reading" to satisfy a reading assignment will soon be over.